Syrian state media say army troops killed 175 rebels in one of deadliest attacks near Damascus

Syrian army troops on Wednesday killed 175 rebels, many of them al-Qaida-linked fighters, in an ambush described as one of the deadliest attacks by government forces against fighters near Damascus, according to state media.

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian army troops on Wednesday killed 175 rebels, many of them al-Qaida-linked fighters, in an ambush described as one of the deadliest attacks by government forces against fighters near Damascus, according to state media.

An opposition group said the dawn ambush — part of a government effort to secure the capital — was carried out by the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which has been instrumental in helping President Bashar Assad’s regime push back rebels entrenched in the suburbs of the capital city.

Syrian state news agency SANA quoted a field commander in the eastern Ghouta area as saying most of the rebels killed in the assault near Oteibah lake southeast of Damascus belonged to the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front rebel group. The report said several of those killed were foreign fighters who came to Syria from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Qatar.

SANA said the operation dealt “a smashing blow to terrorists,” a term Syrian state media uses for rebels.

The agency posted several photographs on its website showing dozens of bodies of men, some with leg wounds, lying in a dirt track of an open field. Some were wearing fatigues, but most wore civilian clothes and appeared to have been carrying bags of clothes and bottles of water that were scattered on the ground, suggesting they were changing locations when they were ambushed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 152 rebels were killed, most of them Nusra Front and other fighters from Islamic brigades. “This is the heaviest loss for Nusra Front and Islamic brigades since the start of the revolution,” said Rami Abdurrahman, director of the rights group.

The Observatory, which has been documenting Syria’s nearly three-year conflict by relying on activists’ reports on the ground, said Hezbollah fighters backed by Syrian troops carried out the ambush. Few other details emerged.

Reinforcing that report, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV aired exclusive footage of what it said was the ambush, showing at least two large bombs that were detonated along the route used by the opposition fighters.

From a distance, people could be seen running in different directions following the blasts.

An army colonel told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen channel that his troops acted on intelligence and the rebels lost “more than 150 men.” Syrian army tanks and armoured personnel carriers were seen in the broadcast, as were soldiers patrolling on foot.

Syria’s pro-government Al-Ikhbariya channel aired its own footage of the aftermath, showing soldiers milling about as dozens of bodies of rebels lay scattered on the ground. The station also broadcast images of what it said were rebels’ weapons, confiscated by the army.

In a similar operation near Damascus in August, Syrian troops ambushed a group of rebels, killing more than 60 opposition fighters on a desert road northeast of the capital.

Syria’s conflict started as largely peaceful protests against Assad’s rule in March 2011. It has developed into a civil war that has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones, pitting mostly Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad’s government, which is dominated by Alawites, a sect in Shiite Islam.

More than 140,000 people have been killed, activists say, and millions have fled their homes to seek shelter in neighbouring countries or in safer parts of their homeland. Many refugees have settled temporarily in areas sealed off by Assad’s troops, with little if any food or medical aid within reach.

In Damascus, Assad met Wednesday with Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the influential Iranian parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, who appealed for a political solution to the conflict.

At a news conference, Bouroujerdi said he discussed the latest military developments with Syrian officials.

Meanwhile, the international mission to rid Syria of its chemical weapons said that a batch of sulfur mustard, widely known as mustard gas, was shipped out of the country Wednesday.

Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint operation by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, called for Syria to continue its efforts to relinquish its arsenal “in a safe, secure and timely manner, through systematic, predictable and high-volume movements.”

The mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical stockpile has missed at least two deadlines in the past two months. The United States has accused Damascus of using stalling tactics to delay the work.

Also Wednesday, Chris Gunness of the UNRWA relief agency called again on warring sides to allow aid workers to resume distribution of food and medicine to thousands of trapped civilians in a besieged Palestinian district of Damascus.

Yarmouk refugee camp has seen some of the worst fighting in the capital, leading to severe food shortages and widespread hunger. More than 100 people have died in camp of starvation and hunger-related illnesses, according to U.N.

The call comes as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged the Syrian government to authorize more humanitarian staff to work inside the country.

Just Posted

Growing drug-fuelled emergencies at Red Deer’s Buffalo transitional housing complex

City council approves two additional mental health staffers at complex

Equalization protests from Alberta likely pre-election talk: Quebec minister

OTTAWA — Quebec’s finance minister brushed off complaints from Alberta on Monday… Continue reading

Car thefts on rise in Canada as thieves target trucks, SUVs: insurance board

TORONTO — A new report says choosy car thieves are setting their… Continue reading

Fenced-off SCS site development approved by Red Deer city council for seven years

‘Sunset clause’ means a new permit will be needed in 2025

Bystanders help Innisfail Mountie make arrest

A 35-year-old Ottawa man is facing a number of charges including resisting arrest

Orlando SC acquires Canadian Tesho Akindele in trade with FC Dallas for cash

ORLANDO, Fla. — Canadian forward Tesho Akindele was traded to Orlando City… Continue reading

Koskinen notches third shutout, McDavid gets winner as Oilers blank Flames 1-0

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers appear to have shored up their defence… Continue reading

Beyonce performs at pre-wedding party in India

Beyonce brought her star power to a pre-wedding party for the daughter… Continue reading

Kirk Douglas celebrates 102nd birthday

LOS ANGELES — Actor Kirk Douglas got to celebrate his 102nd birthday… Continue reading

Ellen Page steps up attack on Nova Scotia pulp mill’s effluent pipeline

HALIFAX — Hollywood actor Ellen Page is doubling down on her criticism… Continue reading

Pence aide out of running to be Trump’s next chief of staff

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top pick to replace chief of staff… Continue reading

Swath of South faces wintry mess: Snow, sleet, freezing rain

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A massive storm brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain… Continue reading

‘I killed my best friend’: Opioids’ fatal grip on mayor, pal

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. — Janel Firestone found her son — the 24-year-old,… Continue reading

Most Read